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American Heritage Dictionary Definitions

Magic: 1. The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural. 2. The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or to control events in nature. 3. Sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment; the use of premeditated deception or concealed equipment to produce baffling effects. From Persian magos, or "priest."

Invocation of a. powers in nature b. spirits c. divinities or divinity

Mysticism: 1. a. A spiritual discipline aiming at union with the divine through deep meditation or trancelike contemplation. b. the experience of such communion, as described by mystics. 2. Any belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension but central to being and directly accessible by intuition. 3. confused and groundless speculation; superstitious self-delusion. From Greek mustes, or "initiate" [in Mysteries] from muein, meaning "to keep mouth closed."

The Greek term mageia derives from the Persian term magos, meaning "priest."

Most people accused of magic in antiquity (i.e., say, 400 B.C. to 300 A.D.) would have denied it, and from their own perspective in fact were simply engaging in their own religious practices. Jews, Christians, Greco-Roman religious practitioners were often accused by opponents of being magicians; indeed, even Jesus was accused of being a magician.

James Frazer in The Golden Bough, and other authors of other late-nineteenth or early-twentieth century theories of magic tended to see it as "primitive" and preceding religion in human "evolution." In most works of that period, "religion" is divided from "magic"; and further divided from "science." These three were held to form separate categories that are still with us today. Magic was seen to be based on logical errors, like a belief that "like attracts like," and belonged to "savage" or "inferior" cultures.

The current scholarly consensus, if there is one, is that "magic" is generally used as a term of opprobrium for the religious practices of people one does not like, and that defining "magic" is almost impossible, like trying to define "deviance" universally. This differs from the contemporary situation, in which one may regularly read bumper stickers that say "my other car is a broom." "Magician" or "witch" today can be an identity in a way that would have been highly unlikely in many cultures in the past.

Science and Magic

."the science of the control of the secret forces of Nature"
MacGregor Mathers, The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage (1902) p. xxv

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future (1962)

"Science is the study and engineering of highly probably coincidences, such as the tendency of apples to fall downward when dropped from trees."
. . . "Magic is the study and engineering of less probable coincidences, such as the tendency of trees to drop apples when we ask them to."
Peter Carroll, Psybermagick (1995), p. 15


Some Magicians Define Magic

Magic is

. . . "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with Will."
Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice (1929), p. xii
"The Aim is simply prosperity." Magick (RKP: 1973), p. 134

. . . "the art of effecting changes in consciousness at will."
William Butler, Apprenticed to Magic, (1962) p. 12

. . . "a body of knowledge that, for one reason or another, has not yet been fully investigated or confirmed by the other arts and sciences."
Isaac Bonewits, Real Magic (1979), p. 33